News from the U.S.-Mexico border that Haitian immigrants are being returned en masse to Haiti has become the latest flashpoint for a Biden administration that, on the heels of worldwide vituperation about the American withdrawal from Afghanistan last month, now is taking harsh criticism for an immigration repatriation policy that is similar to his predecessor, former President Donald Trump.
In a Washington Post article this morning, Johnson Borges, a 23-year-old Haitian immigrant who was deported back to his native country, makes the comparison straight out, saying: “If Biden continues with these deportations, he’s no better than Trump…I’m afraid for my safety here. I don’t even know this country (Haiti) anymore.”
That Bordes no longer knows Haiti is no surprise when considering that his family fled the nation not long after the devastating 2010 Earthquake that left over 200,000 dead. The Bordes family eventually settled in Chile and remained there until this past year, when family members in the United States encouraged them to make the journey northward to better economic opportunities and health care for several family members who were fighting off the Coronavirus.
While one could conclude that preventing Covid-positive immigrants from entering the U.S. makes good public policy sense, it is critical to note that the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers returned to Haiti in recent days by the Biden administration are Covid-free. To their chagrin, these Haitian immigrants are not melanin free, which means that they do not have the right complexion for protection from America’s historically discriminatory immigration laws.
The historian in me reminds that while Donald Trump earned the condemnation he received for referring to Haiti as a “shit-hole” country, and in his open suggestion that the U.S. should seek more immigrants from Norway than from Haiti and Africa, the deplorable truth is that Trump just said and Tweeted ideals that the majority of his predecessors in the Oval Office also believed—even if they did not use foul language to make the point.
From the Chinese Exclusion Act of the late 19th Century that forbade Asian immigration on account of race, to the Immigration Act of 1924 that set strict quotas according to race that allowed Northern Europeans (like Norwegians) access; limited access for darker skinned Southern Europeans, and strictly forbade immigration from Africa, one’s skin color has often been a determining factor in whether asylum was granted or denied in these United States. This factor rendered Emma Lazarus’ poetic “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe…” inscription at the base of the Statue of Liberty a complete sham with regards to the majority of non-white immigrants.
Indeed, from Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th POTUS (non-consecutive terms), on through to the 46th, Joe Biden, each has presided over a nation that is color conscious when it comes to who stays put—and who is cast away from its shores.
Interestingly enough, one of the rarely recognized benefits of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States is that when the 36th POTUS, Lyndon Johnson, signed a series of civil rights acts in 1964-65, that the same also mitigated the harsh racial quotas of the Immigration Act of 1924. While legal Black immigration from the Caribbean and Africa was no longer forbidden, the path to permanent resident status has remained fraught with peril that implicates the same racial customs of earlier eras.
In fact, the most vexing racial differential of the modern era has its roots in the administration of Johnson’s predecessor, John F. Kennedy. In 1961, when the American backed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba failed, that event, long considered Kennedy’s greatest political blunder, led to an unprecedented number of Cuban refugees fleeing for asylum into America. Perhaps out of a sense of responsibility for failing to adequately support the rebels battling against Fidel Castro’s Communist regime, the Cuban Readjustment Act was soon passed and allowed greater access to Cubans seeking asylum for political oppression. Still, the majority of Cubans who made it to America more often than not were fairer complexioned ones who checked “white” on their racial boxes—while many Black Cubans of African descent stayed put on the island.
Even during the infamous Mariel boatlift in 1980, where thousands of Cuban prisoners were exiled by Castro to America, the then burgeoning clout of white Cuban Americans in South Florida led to very few changes in Cuban immigration policy. During this same period, despite the fact that Haitians, too, had developed successful communities across Florida and up the Eastern Seabord, Haitian immigrants’ road to asylum remained littered with potholes as they usually endured lengthy stays in Federal detention facilities, where they remained until their asylum attempts were denied and they were flown or shipped back to Haiti.
For these reasons, when young Mr. Bordes concludes that his repatriation to a native land that is foreign to him, one that is still dealing with unrest in the wake of President Jovenel Moise’s assassination this past summer, is unjust—he has an extremely valid point. A point that is supported by the realization that Haitians are compelled to untie the proverbial “Gordian Knot” by proving that they seek asylum due to economic oppression, starvation, and disease to U.S. immigration officials whose hearts are not in the least bit inclined to even consider their collective plight.
Thus, while President Biden does not use his Twitter feed to curse and insult Haitians, the injury is all the same when the policy precedents of his presidential predecessors towards Haitian immigrants remains unchanged.